At last week’s Namco Bandai Global Gamers Day showcase, the publisher unveiled and detailed a number of its major upcoming releases for the North American and European markets. Highlights were numerous, though the clear star of the show was Dark Souls II, easily the most desired game from the publisher this year. However, the high degree of anticipation has been equaled by the amount of concern that also surrounds that game.
To a certain degree, some could say that the latter has been a bit unwarranted. Much of this worry came about when it was revealed that the first game’s director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, would be stepping aside to let Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura take over, with Miyazaki sticking around to lend guidance.
Hidetaka Miyazaki is hardly a household name, and there was no real reason to be doubt Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura’s abilities due to past misfires or the like. The concern simply speaks of how passionate the Dark Souls fanbase is, and how “perfect” the first game was. More or less anything that even hinted towards possibly ruining the perfect harmony that has been established has been enough to cause consternation.
One half of the new duo, Tanimura, was on-hand to show off the latest build of his new game at Namco’s Gamers Day event. Unfortunately the demo was purely hands off, but the presentation accomplished its mission, which was to illustrate how Dark Souls II is a shaping up to be a seemingly worthy follow-up to its predecessor—one that brings a few new flourishes to the table.
The visuals are nicer, for example. Areas that were dark and foreboding are even more so; the new graphics engine allows for greater contrast between lit and non-lit environments. Movement has also been enhanced and is far more realistic, thanks to newly-employed motion capture methods.
There are just as many ways to die by the hands on the enemy, who are smarter, more persistent, and even tougher this time. There are also more traps to contend with as well. One primary goal this time was to do away with certain templates, like levels are usually structured. Instead of encountering a boss at the end, he/she/it might be in the middle.
It all sounded and looked great. But still, many will no doubt be wondering if the core Dark Souls experience is truly intact. That’s what we tried to find out.
Perhaps the biggest concern among fans of the first game is if the second one will be easier. Were there any thoughts about doing this, to make it accessible?
Yui Tanimura, Director: I personally like difficult games myself, so if I had the opportunity to make a bold difference, it would have been to make the game even more difficult. But obviously this is a sequel to a series, so I have no intentions of turning the tables 180 degrees. So no, there is no intent by myself to make the game easier at all.
I plan to add onto the perfection that was Dark Souls and try to carry on the core essence. Which is the satisfaction of overcoming these incredibly tough challenges, but to also enjoy the deaths, to enjoy the hard times. That’s something I want to maintain.
What’s the process like, of creating difficult enemies to fight? How do you make sure that you haven’t gone too far?
That’s a tricky question to answer. It’s easy to kill players. It’s also easy to frustrate them. Which is why, it’s important for players to anticipate death, to understand why it happened, and to create a strategy. To overcome and defeat death, that is the core of Dark Souls.
As for the process itself, we never go “We need an enemy; let’s put one here.” Instead, we try to think about what kind of enemy will evoke a certain type of emotion that we want to communicate at that point, whether it be fright or elation. Our primary focus is on the emotional aspect that we want to be portrayed.
Was there any feedback from the first game that you or others involved found surprising?
Nothing comes to mind immediately. The reason is, as a game creator, when you’re trying to really understand the game you’re trying to make, you’re always going through the negative aspects that can be fixed up. So nothing was a shocker.
Well, on that note, what areas of the game does the sequel improve upon? Not due to player feedback but what you personal felt needed to be adjusted or completely changed?
Often, any sequel of any game has a brand new feature or element that has nothing to do with the original’s core essence, and that’s something we wanted to stay away from.
With that in mind, I believe Dark Souls is a complete game, so while creating a sequel, my first task was to take away the bumps and scratches in the game design. To streamline you could say, a lot of the elements that I thought were unnecessary, but maintain the fundamentals of what Dark Souls is.
So before I even though about adding new features, or new elements, I wanted to refine the Dark Souls experience.
Care to elaborate what you mean by streamlining?
Getting rid of tediousness such as backtracking. Basically anything that gets in the way.
Were there any challenges, filling the shoes of Miyazaki?
In the earlier stages, he was there to help make critical decisions, like the use of the game server this time for example. But he’s also a game creator himself, so he respects my ability and Shibuya-san’s to be directors, so he doesn’t try to step on our toes too much. He’s there to provide advice, to allow me to direct the game that I need to direct.
All day today, Namco Bandai has been showing off games that are easily identified as being Japanese. Many have very anime-like flourishes. Whereas Dark Souls feels very different, almost un-Japanese to a certain extent. Was this on purpose? And who exactly is the audience of Dark Souls to being with?
It certainly wasn’t a conscious decision. The first step was to create a traditional fantasy game… we always had in mind who our publisher is. And they are good at creating the traditional types of games you speak of, and we certainly have no desire to compete with them.
We also certainly didn’t set to design a game that fits the Western audience. The fact that they have accepted the game has been great. We did not expect such a strong response from those ends. But ultimately, who we target is the people around us, which is Japan. And to simply strive to create this old, traditional fantasy world that many are very much interested in.
Can you speak more about the character you play in Dark Souls II?
The underlying setting is that you’re afflicted, and that you’re on a journey to free yourself from this curse. Dark Souls is unique in the way that we want players to truly recreate themselves in the game, to deep dive into who your character actually is, and behave in the same way that you would in real life, if one were to encounter such challenges.
We haven’t really created any drama; we don’t have a story to tell. Instead we try to give the underlying setting and that’s it. We want players to role-play and create their own story. You don’t have to go to the last boss. It’s more what you want the story to become, by giving players the options to adjust the high level settings that we provide.